(CN) – Employers added 148,000 jobs in December, a modest gain that fell short of economists’ forecasts, but nevertheless capped the seventh straight year of annual employment growth above 2 million, the Labor Department reported Friday.
The government said the national unemployment rate held at 4.1 percent, the lowest level since December 2000 when it was 3.9 percent.
Overall, employment rose 2.05 million last year, a pace that was slower than 2016 during President Obama’s final year in office. The number of jobs added in December was also about 50,000 less than most economists were expecting.
For all of 2017, employers added nearly 2.1 million jobs, enough to lower the unemployment rate from 4.7 percent a year ago. Still, average job gains have slowed to 171,000 this year from a peak of 250,000 in 2014.
Most economists expect the Trump administration’s tax cuts to help speed the economy’s already decent pace of growth. Some envision the unemployment rate dropping as low as 3.5 percent by the end of 2018.
A rate that low would mark the lowest such level in nearly a half-century, and it would likely force businesses to accelerate pay raises to attract and retain employees.
In a separate report Friday, the Commerce Department said the U.S. trade deficit rose to $50.5 billion in November, the largest imbalance in nearly six years, as imports and exports both hit records.
The November deficit was 3.2 percent higher than October’s $48.9 billion imbalance, the government said. U.S. exports of goods and services were up 2.3 percent to an all-time high of $200.2 billion. Imports rose an even faster 2.5 percent to a record $250.7 billion.
A rising trade deficit, which reduces economic growth, means that the United States is buying more goods and services from other countries than it is selling them.